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This article was originally published in issue #28
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Hartke may be more familiar on top professional stages, but there's a new model designed for rehearsals, recording and practice, too. Dan Veal checks out HD50. Does it live up to the prestigious Hartke name?
To understand what makes Hartke a bit special you need to know a bit about the company owner Larry Hartke's origins. Back in the 1970's Larry Hartke invested a great deal of time developing a speaker that used an aluminium cone rather than the more usual 'paper' speaker cones. Fast forward ten years and 1980 saw the release of a Hi-Fi speaker system featuring said speaker design but it wasn't until 1985 that Larry took the bass amplification world by storm.
This innovation in bass speaker technology captured the hearts (and ears) of many a bass player and still does in 2014, leading to Hartke's a very impressive artist roster, which includes some of the biggest names in bass guitar today: Victor Wootten, Billy Sheehan, Frank Bello, Jack Bruce, Stuart Hamm, David Ellefson to name just a few, oh and of course the first Hartke bass cabinet ended up in the hands of a one Jaco Pastorius, in 1984!
The aluminium coned speaker made by Hartke is not brittle sounding or harsh at all in tone but 2005 saw an exciting move for the company, following a gig at Madison Square Garden. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton played together for the first time in nearly 30 years. Jack's bass rig choice consisted of both aluminium coned XL cabinets and Hartke's traditional paper coned VX range cabinets. As Hartke says, “The inspiration for the next revolution in bass speaker technology was staring us in the face from the stage of the world's most famous arena.”
Enter the 'half and half' design Hartke HyDrive speaker that fuses the punch of the aluminium coned design tone with the warmer sound of a paper cone in a single speaker unit. It's used in the latest 'HD' range from Hartke and we were sent the HD50 model to look at, which features a single 10” version.
From the start, this Hartke combo has a superb punchy sound considering its diminutive size. Sporting a 50 Watt amplifier on board it is quite capable of being heard in smaller practice sessions and even acoustic gigs. No, of course it won't go up against Mr 5150 and his 4x12 wall of Metal shred, but it is certainly more than adequate for less brutal volume bands.
Those who read my reviews will know I am all for flashing lights and lots of functionality but at the same time, there is nothing better than being able to plug in to an amp with all the controls set at noon and being blessed with a usable or, in this case, great tone to begin with. That's the case here.
I found myself spending very little time tweaking and much more time enjoying the tone of the superb Rocco Prestia LTD bass we used for the review. The HD50 did a brilliant job of supporting the tone of the instrument rather than fighting it. A real joy setting and leaving all the controls well alone.
On to those dials then! The HD50 has a top mounted control panel that is clear to see when you look down onto the combo. As I mentioned earlier, it's a simple but very useful layout featuring master volume and a three band active EQ. Bass, Middle and Treble controls for boost and cut of key bass guitar relevant frequencies. Also on the top panel is an auxiliary input jack for running your MP3 player, drum machine or other device in to the amp for jamming along to. There is also a headphone output for quite practice sessions also.
All this in a neat 15Kg package will cover all of your 'plug and play' needs but what of the sound? As I've said, the combo features Hartke's latest HyDrive speaker and that is fitted in to a ported cabinet. Punchy and pretty loud, it delivers a warm rounded and surprisingly crisp tone despite no tweeter on board.
As I mentioned in the review video, if the 50 Watts isn't enough for you and you crave something larger, you'll be pleased to hear that there are four combos in the HD range, the largest featuring a 15” speaker, a tweeter and a 150W output. If this HD50 is anything to go by, then I expect the 150W version to be more than enough for gig monitoring.
As you know, I applaud manufacturers who are innovative (see my Dingwall bass review back in issue 8 for example) and for that reason this combo scores points. The HyDrive speaker design isn't meant to be characterless 'flat response', but shortcuts you to a pleasing sound without the need for complicated gear or knowledge of troublesome equalisation.